Teaching your dog the rules of tug and setting up boundaries helps control their natural tugging behavior and gives you both what you want.
Ask Professor Boo is our recurring, positive reinforcement dog training and behavior question and answer column. If there’s a question that you would like to ask Professor Boo, please feel free to contact him.
Q: We’ve just got a new puppy and while he’s got all the rough-around-the-edges things that go along with being a puppy he does one thing that’s driving us crazy: everything becomes a game of tug. If he grabs a pillow off the couch – tug. If he grabs a towel in the bathroom – tug. If he grabs our pants – tug. How can we stop him?
A: First things first: tug is an innate behavior but you can shape and give it rules.
Just what is it tug? In short, you’re seeing a social manifestation of millions of years of their evolution.
As canids evolved and their hunting techniques developed to allow the hunting of larger prey. As a result, tug offered a solution to new issues:
Bigger prey require a collective effort to take them down
And, larger prey need to be divided up by the group
At some point one canine grabbed one end of a kill and another canine grabbed the other end and tug was born. What started as a solution to communal hunting and eating became what we see today in dogs as the game of tug.
Teaching your puppy how to tug appropriately is a great foundation skill that addresses:
Drop-it and leave-it skills
Self control skills
Trust and focus
Practice following rules and boundaries
The Rules of Tug
Ask your dog for a sit or down
Engage the game with a cue like “tug” or “take it”.
Use a toy large enough so that your hands will be clear of the dog’s mouth. I just love the Tennis Tug!
I like to use only one or two designated tug toys because this reduces confusion and focuses their tug energies on their Super Special Tug Toy.
When the dog pulls or shakes side-to-side,
You can relax your resistance or drop the toy completely.
You can continue the game this way if your back and arm joints are strong enough but – if you’re like me – stick with the straight-on tug.
When the dog pulls front-to-back or straight-on
Keep your resistance on the toy and play the game.
If the dog’s teeth hit your hand or clothing at any point
Drop the toy, fold your arms, and look or even walk away from the dog.
If the dog’s paws briefly land on you
You can choose to do the same look or walk away. If they are using you as a lever with the paws up against your body, drop the toy and look or walk away.
The dog will probably come back to you with the toy after something like this.
When they do, ask for a sit and restart the game using the cue you’ve chosen.
If the dog begins tugging any article of clothing
Disengage from the dog and give them a time-out from you and the game.
If your dog is a tugger, you will be shocked to see how quickly he/she will learn the rules. Tug is of such high value to most dogs that the game itself becomes a reward for other great behaviors.
Good luck, let me know how it goes, and stay positive!
Pinball takes on his foremost nemesis: a stick in our backyard.
Finally a sunny and comparatively warm day we decided to combine some fun outside for the newest addition to the family, Pinball, along with a chance to test out our newest gadget – a Flip camera.
Pinball was the only member of Callie’s litter – the only boy in the litter – who wasn’t adopted from the shelter right away. When she died it seemed right to bring him here. He seems to be liking it – or at least the stick.